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Deputy Minister Sotyu’s remarks at the 10th Women In Environment Dialogue 2019

28th August 2019, Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre, Gauteng Province

Programme Director;
DEFF Director-General, Ms Nosipho Ngcaba;
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, Dr. Cecilia Jenga;
UN Climate Expert & Head of Environmental Planning and Climate Protection, Dr. Debra Roberts;
All our DEFF Top Management and Officials;
Delegates of the Dialogue;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is heartening to see so many women gathered here today to participate in developing solutions towards addressing climate change in South Africa. 

Your participation in our annual indaba with the theme “Women Leading 4 Climate Action” focusing on the role women can play in the environment in South Africa, is more relevant today than ever.

This theme already tells us that this platform will not only honour today’s winners, but, it will also be a reflection highlighting successes, challenges, measuring the effectiveness of the programme and its impacts. 

As we celebrate women’s month, it is important to note that our own constitution in South Africa advocates that Gender equality is of great importance to all South Africans.  

Not only is it entrenched in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, but it also tops the development agenda of the ruling party and government.

In this instance, South Africa takes women empowerment very seriously considering our history. Without the women who stood up in 1956, the democracy of this country might not have been this successful. 

We realise that women are the backbone of development of rural and national economies through the world. Indeed, for a long time, women have been the silent pillars of Africa’s development at all socio-economic levels.

Although women’s exact contribution in terms of magnitude and nature remains difficult to assess, due to variations in different regions, evidence shows that women make significant contributions towards development of countries all over the world. 

As women are generally the providers of food, water, and fuel for families, changes in the climate and environment impact mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters directly. 

This means, there is a direct relationship between gender equality, women’s empowerment and climate change. 

Yes, climate change and natural disasters affect everyone.

But, it is a fact that most of all the vulnerable communities, women and girl-children are the most affected groups from the devastating impacts of climate change. 

Especially those living mostly in rural areas bear the hardest and heaviest burden of these hazards.

We have already seen so many hazards caused by climate change in South Africa, which tells us that our country is steadily but surely experiencing droughts, floods, and other severe weather conditions.

For example, in recent years we have witnessed the worst drought ever since 1904, with the most affected Provinces such as the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Free State. 

These heat conditions have led to severe water restrictions, widespread crop failure, and substantial depletion of livestock.

Extreme flooding has also been experienced by KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng provinces. 

It becomes imperative then that South Africa continues to be in the fore-front of mainstreaming gender into climate change response.

Indeed, the time has come for women to have a voice, a voice that is not confined to their responsibilities as nurturers. 

But, a voice of leadership, guidance provision, and setting the tone of how our young women and the environment that they live in should be treated in the future. 

South Africa’s response to the crisis of climate change has indeed taken a stronger and decisive commitment to promote the inclusion of women voices in every aspect of sustainable development.

This commitment is reflected in our country’s National Strategy towards Gender Mainstreaming in the Environment Sector. 

The purpose of this strategy is to provide a framework for gender mainstreaming in the environment sector by ensuring that initiatives in the sector are inclusive and promote meaningful participation of women.

Furthermore, South Africa has ratified the Paris Agreement which aimed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.

However, this Dialogue must ensure that such strategies and International Agreements and Instruments on Climate Change do not become merely words on paper and then shelved. 

Concrete commitment and action must be taken to implement these glossy strategies. 

Mamphele Ramphele’s article: “Africa’s opportunity to turn climate change crisis into prosperity”, has eloquently put this into perspective when she says:

“There is no place to hide from the climate emergencies upon us. We have the responsibility as the people and citizens of Africa, to put pressure on our leaders to respond urgently and decisively to turn the crises into opportunities for greater shared prosperity”. (END QUOTE).

 Therefore we must always insist that, women’s empowerment must be a non-apologetic precondition in the advancement of development and poverty reduction.  

Let us then ensure that we utilise this Dialogue to implement the National Strategy Towards Gender Mainstreaming in the Environment Sector, to totally eliminate skewed participation in the Environment Sector. 

The environment sector must be inclusive and must promote meaningful participation of women.

Indeed, our healthy environment will only be strengthened, accelerated and sustained, if more efforts and commitments are put in building on the contributions that women make and taking steps to alleviate constraints that hinder women’s development and progress.

This affords the country a better chance of building a sturdier economy and ultimately contribution to the global goals of equity and sustainability of our environment and the world. 

This means we need to start in earnest to mainstream gender in education, and at the same time, integrate the environmental issues into school curricula, where young girls are encouraged and be motivated to become scientists, in meteorology, biology, and botanic studies.

It is through initiatives such as the Women in Environment Dialogue, that nations are built, as women empowerment constitutes individual and community growth and development that leads to a sustainable healthy environment. 

This will also yield to creating and ensuring access to financial assistance and technological advances for women wanting to enter the environment sector, and also for those who want to expand their already existing role.

Through the National Adaptation Fund, the Department supports a number of projects across three provinces, namely KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Northern Cape. 

Most beneficiaries from these projects are women and youth. These address raising climate resilient livestock; producing climate resilient rooibos tea; introducing climate smart vegetable production as well as investing in water security, saving schemes and in climate proof infrastructure.  

It is therefore important that this Dialogue looks at concrete actions to ensure women play the important role they are meant to in ensuring we leave a world for our children that is not harmful to their health and well-being.

During our interaction in the coming two days, we should come up with concrete solution on how we will enhance women participation in climate change responses. 

Let us lead action toward addressing climate change in South Africa. 

Programme Director, as I conclude, I would like to congratulate all the women who are present here. 

You all have shown courage and determination to succeed in your respective enterprises in this environment sector, by leaving all your personal responsibilities, and to attend this Dialogue.   I say Happy Women‘s Month and forward to Women and Girls empowerment!

I wish you a fruitful engagement during the course of the conference.

I thank you all!


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